1. The Black Gestapo (Lee Frost, 1975)
2. Darktown Strutters (William Witney, 1975)
3. Willie Dynamite
(Gilbert Moses, 1974)
I don't know about anybody else, but I look for specific elements when it comes to many genres - particularly fairly small and contained genres like blaxploitation. Got to have some funky music, got to have some cool threads, got to have at least one decent car chase or foot chase (preferably both); in the more serious films I also want to see some real exploration of the morality of drug dealing and pimping, and I always like to see some sticking it to the Man. Willie Dynamite
has just about all of these things, and in one area - the wardrobe - it's absolutely top-notch. I'd have to look at 1974 overall but if there's a film with better costume design from this year I definitely want to be pointed towards it - and I'm hardly a costume fetishist. But jeez, this is just full of weird and cool suits of every color, fur-lined (or maybe fake fur or wool sometimes - not always easy to tell) capes, mini-skirts and high heeled boots in every color of the rainbow, etc. Best pimp threads ever.
Pretty cool cars too and a good if not exceptional soundtrack - and at least a small helping of all those other elements. And that's enough to make it worth watching IMO, though the overall plot - top pimp Willie (Roscoe Orman) brought successively lower and lower over the course of the film by the cops, by the IRS, by his competitors, and by his own hubris, isn't anything you haven't seen before if you've seen a bit of the genre. There are some other interesting elements - the interactions with the two main cops, one white and one black, and the very ending - simultaneously more realistic and more hopeful than most of the rest of the film would lead you to expect. Not top-drawer but overall above average for sure.
4. Black Dynamite
(Scott Sanders, 2009) (re-watch)
3rd or 4th viewing. This gets better every time; like most of the best parodies, this does have some value even if you're not that familiar with what's being parodied - when I first saw this new I was in that category of viewer. But now after probably 60 or more blaxplo films seen it's even better and the specific references to films like the one I saw just before it, to The Mack
and Truck Turner
, are funnier than ever, and star/co-writer Michael Jai White's combination of Jim Brown and JIm Kelly (with maybe a small touch of Fred Williamson, at least in the mustache) and co-writer Byron Minns' Bullhorn, a dead-on imitation of Rudy Ray Moore, help to make this one of my all-time favorites in this category. Spinal Tap
is probably the only film at all comparable that I might - just might - like more. I do wish they had done more with Salli Richardson-Whitfield's Gloria - the film is missing the tough Pam Grier female lead and she's the closest thing to it, and just doesn't get any real standout scenes - but with the limitations of budget and everything else it's no surprise - if you listen to the commentary it's clear that they wanted better female-led kung-fu action among other things, but it wasn't in the cards, and alas there never was a live-action sequel; I still haven't watched the animated TV series, probably should get to that sometime. If I have a single highlight it's probably the diner-set scene where Black Dynamite explains the origin of Anaconda Malt Liquor and why it's being so aggressively marketed to black men - a plot point that comes out of a number of conspiracy-minded blaxplo films like Darktown Strutters
; this reminds me of the Holy Grail
sketch where Sir Bedevere is explaining how you can spot a witch, only it goes much farther in the extreme silliness and convolutions of the arguments.
5. Gordon's War
(Ossie Davis, 1973)
A more serious, action-crime oriented film than most, this has something of the gritty feel of Across 110th Street
and for the use of New York locations and the feel for the streets of Harlem at the time it's worth a look. But the story of Vietnam vet Paul Winfield returning to find his wife dead from the Evils of Smack and declaring all-out war on the dealers, pushers and pimps, recruiting three of his Nam buddies, is pretty old-hat. Maybe it wasn't at the time but I suspect even in '73 this didn't impress much - it remains a pretty obscure film. Decent funky soundtrack, some good action sequences, but the later parts of the film where we suddenly discover that, gasp, it's The Man behind all the black dealers and pimps and He's the guy they have to actually take out, and particularly the last scene, feel pretty tacked-on, either to increase the running time to an acceptable 90 minutes or to make sure that the audience wouldn't come away thinking the problems are all just in the black community and in fact caused by black bad guys. Grace Jones has a small role - her first. Ehh, pretty average overall.